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  • Penelope Haines

Varanasi - Day 3


First thing this morning we were back at the ghats. There were crowds of course, but this time the majority were in a neat tidy queue, marshalled to the side of the road by barricades, all heading in the opposite direction to ourselves. They were waiting to get to the local temple to perform ritual puja. It seems we are in the middle of the festival season, hence the crowds. I later found out the queue was over 3 kms long. Our own local churches would kill for such attendance numbers!

We made our way down to the water again. There was a different vibe this morning. People were here in family groups to bathe together. Men, women and children shared the river - the women discreetly modest, while the men, though still circumspect, were more inclined to splash around in the river.


Some were here as part of a mourning process for relatives cremated the day before - the men would have their hair shaved off, then bathe in the Ganges to wash away their own impurities, the sins of their ancestors and their family. Later, dressed in fresh clothes, they would emerge from the ceremony cleansed of their sins.

I took the opportunity to do my own spot of Ganges bathing - although I limited myself to washing my hands, face and neck. I understand my sins are now eliminated, my family's sins are cleansed, and I've helped any erring ancestors on their way through the after life. There's a pleasing sense of freedom to be able to start again so clean and fresh. I've always envied Roman Catholics and the confession process which achieves much the same thing.

Naked Saddhus or holy men stood or sat in their tents. They were covered in what looked like ash and were grey and ghostly. They believe they were born naked, will die naked, and don't see the need to alter that state in the years between. Apparently, between festivals they disappear back to their ashrams in the mountains, ready to reappear as required when the next festival occurs.

After we left the ghats, we visited the local University. Established in 1917 it is one of the pre-eminent learning establishment, and competition to attend is very high.

We attended the campus temple to Shiva. I rather like the casual but obvious devotion Indians show to their gods. Popping in for a puja, or a chat with Shiva or his priests is simply part of a normal day. Equally admirable is the inclusiveness of Hinduism. Our guide was careful to establish that Hinduism is not a religion - simply a way to live a good life. In a sense, Hindus assume that everyone is already Hindu, but hasn't realised it yet.

I've wracked my brains since, trying to think of any religious wars which have been started by Hindus, and failed.

Later in the afternoon we visited a weaving factory. Actually, factory is the wrong word - this is a cooperative and operates as a kind of guild. Not only do they use punched cards to guide the weavers through the patterns, but four families can still weave the old patterns without the cards, relying entirely on memory. A father will work with a son - and they will only be able to create the same specialised pattern - which is repeated as many times as required. We looked at the threads on the loom, all shifted and guided by memory and skill. Humanity has achieved mighty things, but it will be heard to recreate this when the last qualified weaver of this technique hangs up his shuttle.

We bought a rather nice table runner. I coveted a duvet and pillow slip set, but shuddered to think what a dog and cat could do.

A man, cremating his father, has his head shaved


A family affair, washing together


Ritual bathing


A naked saddhu


Varinasi University


Inside the temple


Plaque


3D map of India


A holy man


Dawn on the river


Watching the sun rise


Crowds on the ghat


Early morning ablutions


A Saddhu


Rhinoceros statue at Shiva’s temple


Weaving the centuries old skill - a dying art


The finished product



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